Why some key players believe things are looking up for commercial development in Palm Coast.
The parking lot may be empty. There might be a vacancy sign in the window. But according to Jerry Masiello, vice chairman of the Commercial Committee for Flagler Multiple Listing Service, there’s more to the story.
“Don’t drive past an empty building and think that nothing’s going on,” he said.
A former member of Enterprise Flagler and 20-year Palm Coast commercial real estate agent, Masiello gave a presentation to the Palm Coast Civic Association Thursday, March 10, about the state of commercial development in the city. In an interview before the presentation, Masiello suggested that looks can be deceiving.
“Yes, there are vacancies in certain spots,” he said, “but people don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes … I try to squash some of the rumors, try to give the average citizen a little more insight into what’s going on.”
Masiello said one big news item coming up is that Panera Bread has been moving forward at its site in Town Center, in front of the Hilton Garden Inn. According to City Manager Jim London, Panera has submitted a formal site plan and is preparing lot restructuring submittals for architectural review.
“The city definitely supported (this deal),” Masiello said. “They are pro-development. I think sometimes they get too much of a bad rap for not being business friendly … In my experience, it’s quite the opposite … (The city) streamlined it. They made it happen quicker.”
No estimated opening date for Panera Bread has been scheduled.
Panera is just one example, but Palm Coast has seen more activity.
“We did a lot (of development and occupational orders in 2010),” Palm Coast Planning Manager Ray Tyner said. “We just continue to have some positive movement with new construction and developments.”
According to Tyner, development orders typically involve new construction from land (CVS, Olive Garden/Red Lobster), while occupancy orders are for existing businesses, but often add jobs.
Landon confirmed that several retail companies are considering opening stores in Palm Coast.
“The retailers are back in the game, but they’re all very cautious,” he said. “They are looking, and Palm Coast is one of the markets that the national retailers are finding as possible sites.”
Local retailers are getting back in the game, as well. One is under construction in Nikzad Plaza. A planned store there will stand as 11,831 square feet of retail space, at 85 Cypress Point Parkway. The permit for development was issued December 2010. The owner, Jackie Nikzad, said six to nine storefronts could eventually be filled, including up to 3,000 square feet of restaurant space.
“I do believe it’s coming back,” Nikzad said. “Things are definitely looking up in Palm Coast.”
“What’s kind of exciting,” Tyner added, “is … even though we might have had more development orders in the past, (we’ve) got some really cool things like the Beach Villages and the Epic Movie Theatre. It’s keeping so much money here in the city.”
There have been setbacks, Masiello admits, e.g., the recent Project Koala bid Palm Coast lost to Fort Myers.
“We are competing heavily with our neighbors,” Masiello said. ”We’re weathering the storm pretty well.”
By the numbers
Masiello said that, compared to other counties, retail is “great” in Flagler. In the northeast quadrant of Florida, he said only two counties show projected growth: Flagler and Sumtner.
Of eight or nine states making up the southeast quadrant of the country, he added, only 13 counties show positive growth.
“If we have 3-7% (growth) through 2015,” he said, “we’ll be fine.”
For Masiello, increasing the commercial tax base in Palm Coast is imperative. “The effect will be lower taxes for (residents) and their homes,” he said.
Palm Coast sales tax revenue was up 1.3% in 2008, according to Beau Falgout, the city’s senior planner. The number jumped another 8.5% in 2009. City-specific numbers have yet to be released, but Flagler County’s numbers are showing a strong rebound, from a drop of 6.3% last year to an increase of 2.0% in 2010.
“Our numbers were going up, while the rest of the state and country was going down,” Landon said. “Relatively speaking, we’re very strong.”
Masiello added: “These single-tenant retailers do a heck of a lot of research … For them to make the decision to go vertical (in Palm Coast), they must see something the average person doesn’t see.”
— Brian McMillan contributed to this report.
More than 140 occupancy orders were filed in 2010 with the city of Palm Coast, but each one could mean something very different for the city’s commercial development.
Some orders, like the ones Epic Theatres or ABC Fine Wine and Spirits submitted last year, are signs of positive growth; ABC’s sales revenue has “exceeded expectations,” according to ABC Marketing and Communications Manager Lorena Streeter.
Others are merely a sign of flux. Cakes Across America, for example, is one business that downsized and had to refile its occupancy accordingly.
Another company, McHenry’s Pub, pulled an occupancy order and is doing business as Scruffy Murphy’s.